Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT): What You Need To Know

  • Written byIchika Yamamoto
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Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT): What You Need To Know

The JLPT, or Japanese Language Proficiency Test, is designed to help newcomers to Japan or those who wish to work in some capacity prove that they’re proficient in Japanese.

Divided up into several levels, with 5 being the lowest and 1 being the highest, each level of proficiency has its own purpose.

Many professionals, such as foreigners who wish to practice medicine in Japan, will likely need to obtain a higher level of certification, while incoming students will likely need a lower level certification in order to enter the Japanese school system.

For example, many medical professionals must pass the highest level of the test, N1, in order to practice medicine in Japan, as the JLPT test requires an advanced understanding of technical texts and conversations.

This level of the test also exempts incoming students from the language section of the middle school equivalency examination for entering high school.

At times, it may also replace the Examination for Japanese University Admission for incoming students.

Designed to help foreigners assimilate rather than hinder them, the test is worth taking the time to prepare for. It is important to understand all of the test mechanics and varying levels before taking the rigorous test.


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JLPT levels explained: N5 – N1

With N1 being the highest level of proficiency certification and N5 being the lowest, each level of the test progressively demands more from test-takers.

However, various professional licenses and academic institutions demand test-takers to attain specific levels of certification, rarely allowing them the choice to choose lower-levels of the test.

It is important for test-takers to understand the requirements of each level and in order to appropriately prepare for the test that they will be taking.

Listed below are the requirements for each level of the JLPT test, as explained by The Japan Foundation.

N5

Level: Basic

Passing Score: 80 points

Total Time: 105 minutes

Reading:

Test-takers should be prepared to demonstrate a knowledge of basic expressions. Questions will identify knowledge of basic kanji, katakana, and hiragana.

Listening:

Test-takers will be able to listen to and participate in conversations regarding topics that surface in daily life and classroom scenarios.

Listeners will be able to understand the necessary information conveyed in short conversations which are spoken slowly during the test.

N4

Level: Elementary

Passing Score: 90 points

Total Time: 125 minutes

Reading:

Test-takers will be able to understand the typical topics of written conversation. Test-takers will be judged on their grasp of basic kanji as well as basic vocabulary.

Listening:

Test-takers can listen to and understand basic, daily conversations. The listening portion of this level tests whether or not test-takers can follow basic conversations that are still spoken relatively slowly.

N3

Level: Intermediate

Passing Score: 95 points

Total Time: 140 minutes

Reading:

Test-takers will be judged on their ability to read and understand specific points of conversation in written materials. Test-takers should also be prepared to identify and summarize general items such as newspaper headlines.

Testers at this level should be able to identify and understand more difficult writings. Testers are not expected to understand extremely complex phrases at this level but should be prepared to use the context clues provided by slightly less challenging phrases in order to demonstrate a slightly advanced understanding of intermediate-level writing.

Listening:

Test-takers are expected to understand everyday conversations spoken at a relatively average speed. Test-takers should be prepared to demonstrate an understanding of the content explored in the conversations while also demonstrate an understanding of the subtext provided in conversations, such as inferring the relationship between two speakers based on their conversation style and word choice.

N2

Level: Pre-Advanced

Passing Score: 90 points

Total Time: 155 minutes

Reading:

Test-takers will be able to comprehend the content and intent of various writings and their authors. Test materials for this pre-advanced level of reading include slightly complex critiques and commentaries in newspapers and magazines as well as general topics.

Testers should also demonstrate the ability to read and follow the narratives of general topics.

Listening:

Building on the foundations laid out by the previous iterations of the listening test, test-takers should be able to demonstrate an understanding of orally presented materials.

Testers should prepare to listen to news reports as well as everyday conversations taking place in a wide variety of settings, follow the ideas presented, and effectively understand their content.

While understanding the essential points of more technical conversations, listeners should be able to understand the relationships between those participating in general conversation.

N1

Level: Advanced

Passing Score: 100 points

Total Time: 170 minutes

Reading:

The highest level of reading certification offered by the test, readers at this level of the test must be able to understand complex written subjects at a logical and abstract level.

Presented with newspaper editorials and critiques as well as profound topics, test-takers should be able to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of these complex topics.

Listening:

Listeners at this level will be asked to demonstrate a near-native oral understanding of Japanese. Test-takers will be asked to demonstrate their ability to follow conversations, lectures, news reports, and more.

Test-takers should be prepared for the speeds of the speakers in this section of the test to vary.

Listeners will be assessed on their ability to both comprehend the key points of these conversations as well as contextualize the relationships between the persons involved in the conversations.

Where to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test

In order to obtain certification at any level, one must receive their test from a certified center.

According to Japan Educational Exchanges and Services, the test is given twice a year in Japan, as well as a few selected countries, taking place during:

  • the first Sunday of July
  • the first Sunday of December

In most other regions, the test is given just once a year, taking place only:

  • the first Sunday of December

Japan

Test Fee: 5,500 yen (about $50 USD)

Those looking to take the test in Japan should expect to follow the JEES, Japan Educational Exchanges and Services, timeline very carefully.

Test-takers must register for either the July test date starting in February or the December test date starting in early July.

Testers must then obtain a Test Guide and Application Forms either from MyJLPT on the JEES website or from a bookstore that carries them from either mid-March or mid-August, depending on which test date they have chosen.

In either April or September, testers will be required to pay the application fee, fill out their application form, and pay their registration fee by mail to the Application Center.

Around June or November, test-takers who have correctly registered with JEES will receive their test voucher, allowing them to take their test during their selected date in July or December.

Those who commit errors during their registration process will be required to pay an additional 1000 yen (about $10 USD) in order to refile and correct the error.

Testers will receive their results as well as Certificates of Proficiency, provided they achieve a high enough score, either early September or early February.

Test centers are arranged every year, so testers should wait for the appropriate testing center to be announced before registering.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test around the world

While testing fees remain in the same range as in Japan, although they may be higher depending on the exact location testers choose, the test is given in December and follows the same format as the test given in Japan.

Testers around the world should first identify the testing center nearest to them and follow the registration instructions and deadlines provided to them by their specific center.

Throughout Asia

According to the JLPT testing site, the JLPT test is given in a wide range of countries throughout Asia, outside of Japan.

Countries listed include:

  • Korea
  • China
  • Mongolia
  • Taiwan
  • Indonesia
  • Cambodia
  • Singapore
  • Thailand
  • Philippines
  • Brunei
  • Vietnam
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Laos
  • India
  • Sri Lanka
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Maldives

North America

Test Fee: $60 USD

The test is given throughout Canada, with testing centers in:

  • Vancouver
  • Toronto
  • Edmonton
  • Ottawa

In the United States, the JLPT test is given in the following cities:

  • Los Angeles
  • Chicago
  • New York
  • Honolulu
  • Atlanta
  • San Francisco
  • Washington D.C.
  • Seattle
  • Fayetteville
  • Philadelphia
  • Boston
  • Houston
  • Ann Abrbor
  • Boulder
  • Columbus
  • Miami
  • Portland
  • Newark

Testing centers in Mexico:

  • Mexico City
  • Monterrey
  • Salamanca

South America

A variety of South American countries host the test, with testing centers being located in Peru, Argentina, Brazil and more countries. These tests take place during the December date offered. For a comprehensive list of countries and cities that offer the test, visit the JLPT website.

Europe

Testing centers for the JLPT test are located throughout Western and Eastern Europe, with tests being given during the December date in Europe as well. While the overseas website provides a comprehensive list of countries in Europe that provide the test, testers will take note that Spain and Russia have some of the highest amounts of testing centers, offering great flexibility to test-takers.

Africa

Several countries in Africa offer the December date of the test, with Gahana offering the July date:

  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Republic of Benin
  • Madagascar
  • South Africa

Oceania

Both Australia and New Zealand offer a variety of July and December test dates, with The Marshall Islands offering only the December date.

Cities in Australia:

  • Canberra
  • Brisbane
  • Perth
  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Adelaide

Cities in New Zealand:

  • Auckland
  • Wellington
  • Christchurch

JLPT vs other language grading systems (CEFR, TOPIK and HSK)

While the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is unique to Japan, many languages offer tests for their own languages that are similar.

TOPIK

The Test of Proficiency in Korean, or TOPIK, is a similar test that ranks speakers looking to prove themselves as speakers.

TOPIK ranks testers according to six levels, with Level 6 being the most proficient and Level 1 being the least.

This test also measures the ability of its test-takers to both read and listen in the language but also consists of a writing slot. According to TOPIK GUIDE, TOPIK’s writing slot tests on both long-form and short-form responses.

The aim of various levels of this test is to gauge one’s ability to carry out either simple interactions in Korean or technical, professional conversations.

CEFR

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, or CEFR, is unique in that it provides a single framework for testing a wide variety of languages.

This framework is comprehensive, providing a complete curriculum for learning, testing, and assessing one’s proficiency in every language across Europe.

With six reference levels, the CEFR has quickly become the standard in Europe when it comes to testing one’s language proficiency skills, regardless of the language that is being tested. Such uniformity is unique.

The test breaks its certifications down in two 3 main domains:

  • A: Basic User
  • B: Independent User
  • C: Proficient User

Within each of the 3 main domains, users will be given either a 1 or 2 classification, with 1 being the cusp of the level and 2 being the advanced certification.

For example, a tester who scores A1 is a beginner, while a tester who scores A2 is elementary but slightly more advanced than A1.

HSK

The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi test, or HSK, is the Chinese Proficiency Test used in China.

This system is used to test the ability of non-native speakers’ mastery of the Chinese language.

Many foreigners will note that Chinese job descriptions will require foreigners to score HSK5 or above, with HSK6 being the highest level of proficiency one may obtain through the test.

Similar to the aforementioned tests, the HSK tests participants on their listening, reading, and writing abilities. Each section of the test awards 100 points, with varying score requirements for each section of the test.

The HSKK is a test provided separately which tests speaking ability but is scored on a similar scale of 1 through 6, with 6 being the highest possible score.

Tips for passing the JLPT with flying colors

Beating the JLPT requires work – there’s no way around that.

Obviously, the higher the level, the more it will require from you, but here are some general tips to get prepared for the test:

  1. Don’t stress. Just enjoy the process (it helps).
  2. Watch YouTube (Japanese shows) and carefully take note of all the vocab and expressions (look out for Japanese onomatopoeia) you don’t already know.
  3. Read, read, read. The JLPT is literacy-heavy so read every bit of Japanese content you can get your hands on (books, articles, comics) and do it often.
  4. Make time for grammar study with a quality Japanese course or app but always learn in context (don’t just memorize rules).
  5. Get a Japanese teacher on italki to help you practice daily.
  6. Do practice tests.

Good luck! 🙂


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